DULUTH - As Bud Hennebaul left the Class AAAAA traditional state wrestling tournament in Macon last year, the former Parkview state champion realized something was missing. While the tournament was great, it could be better.
That's when the idea came about to have all five classifications in one venue, instead of all five in separate venues as it has been done in the past.
After months of hard work and planning, what was once a dream for Hennebaul and wrestling fans across the state is now a reality.
The Arena at Gwinnett Center will host all five classifications in the traditional state wrestling tournament beginning today and running through Saturday night's finals.
"It's something Georgia wrestling has needed for a long time," said Hennebaul, the tournament director for the event.
The tourney features 1,456 wrestlers from 272 different high schools, making it the largest high school wrestling tournament in the United States.
"No other states compare," said Hennebaul, Parkview's first individual state wrestling champion as a high school junior in 1978.
Such a large event has forced months of planning. Hennebaul and Atlanta Takedown Association president Gary Schaefer have been preparing for the tournament since April.
"We had no idea when we set this up how much work, manpower and so many little details it would have," Hennebaul said.
The duo, along with members of the Atlanta Takedown Association, have been planning how to get mats set up, placement of scorers' tables, hospitality rooms for referees and scorers, announcers for the tournament, brackets for the walls, programs, trophies, singers for the national anthem and everything that goes along with setting up a tournament that normally the host high school would do.
"Bud Hennebaul was really behind the whole thing," Parkview co-head coach Tom Beuglas said. "We thought we were going to have to be rolling out mats, setting up tables and all kinds of things. But really all each school (from Gwinnett) has to do is work the hospitality room. Each school provides the food for the table workers and officials. Our involvement is minimal from what we thought it would be."
More than 150 volunteers are expected to help run the tournament smoothly this weekend.
"Everyone is expecting it to be wonderful and great and it will be," Hennebaul said. "We've dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's to make sure it runs smoothly."
This year's tournament will feature 12 mats on the floor. In the past, the host school of the state tournament would have to borrow mats to fill the floor, but that's not the case this year.
Hennebaul was able to strike a deal with a mat company in Texas to sell each mat used at the tournament for $1,600, an incredible deal. And schools across the state have raised money to buy the mats when the tournament is over.
Having wrestlers on 12 mats at one time in one venue will allow wrestling fans across the state to see wrestlers compete they have only heard of in the past, not seen in person. Fans of Class AAAAA wrestling rarely get to see the top wrestlers in other classifications across the state and vice versa, because their respective finals have been in different locations in past season.
That will change this weekend.
"The cool thing about the finals is that you can see kids that are two- or three-time state champions in Class AAA that you have heard of, but have never seen wrestle," Beuglas said. "As a fan it's going to be like New Year's Day watching the bowl games."
Tickets for the tournament can be purchased at the Arena box office or through Ticketmaster. Tickets are $7 all day today and Friday, $10 Saturday and $20 for a tournament pass.
The tournament begins today at 9 a.m. The quarterfinals are Friday, starting at 11 a.m. and the semifinals are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. The finals for all five classifications will be Saturday at 5 p.m.
"It's something new. Everybody wants to come here, that's what we've been hearing the last two or three weeks," Schaefer said. "It's going to be fun and we're expecting a sellout crowd."